After the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw in Nyon, Switzerland last year, one particular fixture drew the attention of all and sundry. Referring to this tie as the most glamorous tie in the Champions League knock out stage would widely never be out of place but rather would be greeted with handshakes of approval. This fixture, ladies and gentlemen, is REAL MADRID vs. MANCHESTER UNITED.
Real Madrid is the symbol of Spanish nationalism and the most successful club in Spain in terms of domestic titles with a record 32 La Liga titles whilst Manchester United is the definition of a modern football club and typifies English football. These two clubs have 12 Champions League titles between them; 9 for Real Madrid and 3 for Manchester United, further accentuating their pedigree in Champions League football. Real Madrid and Manchester United have probably the largest fan base in the world and according to Sporting Intelligence, “Manchester United and Real Madrid have sold an average of 1.4m official replica shirts globally each year in the past five years – more than any other clubs in the world”. The commercial giants of English and Spanish football wear kits made respectively by Nike and Adidas and those sales numbers are from the 2007-08 season to the 2011-12 season inclusive. Real Madrid is the richest football club in the world in terms of revenue whilst Manchester United is third on that list. Both clubs have a global appeal and it’s rightly so. But what else makes this fixture mouth-watering?
THE QUALITY OF PLAYERS IN BOTH TEAMS
Real Madrid vrs Manchester United will treat the world to a sumptuous meal of football tonight. The ingredients of this meal invariably are the players who will be greeted with rapturous applause when these two giants take to the field to showcase pure football brewed in the European pot. More than 500 million pounds worth of talents would strut their stuff on the football pitch. Both clubs have world class players, individual players who can change games with a stroke of genius, players with bags of talents, experience and trophies. There will be lots of key battles as well. The temerarious Rafael vrs wing wizard Cristiano Ronaldo, the battle of the flanks, I prefer to call it, looks an interesting one. Karim Benzema vrs Nemanja Vidic will be another key battle whilst Robin van Persie vrs Pepe, which I prefer to call the Battle of Beauty (Robin van Persie) and the Beast (Pepe) will be one to relish. In central midfield, Khedira vrs Carrick will win or lose the game for either side. Apart from the key battles, some other top notch players such as Wayne Rooney, Angel di Maria, Shinji Kagawa and Mesut Ozil will warm the heart of football fans with their undiluted skills, sublime passes, high octane work rate, cracking goals and overall performance.
JOSE MOURINHO vs. SIR ALEX FERGUSON
These two managers, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex are two of the most distinguished and celebrated in the world. The exploits of Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain is over whelming. After winning domestic league titles in these four countries (unprecedented) and performing creditably in other competitions (including two Champions League titles in the process), the Portuguese gaffer would want to enhance his CV by winning the much coveted La Decima for Real Madrid. 20 trophies in the past 11 or so years is no mean achievement. Sir Alex Ferguson on the other hand is a paragon of excellence for up and coming managers. Since taking over at Manchester United in 1986, he has never looked back despite lack of success in his first few years at the club. 12 English Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 league Cup titles, 2 Champions League titles are but a few of the prestigious titles Sir Alex has secured for Manchester United. His name has been permanently etched in English football as well as European football history books and has several personal awards to show for his hardwork and dedication. The two managers have had their own “healthy rivalry” when Jose Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea and the Portuguese manager had mostly come up tops in their duels. Will Mou tramp Sir Alex once again considering the former’s superb record against English clubs in the UEFA Champions League?
Sir Alex Ferguson discovered Ronaldo whilst he was playing for Sporting Lisbon and decided to acquire his services. Signing the then Portuguese teenager for around 12.24 millon pounds is probably Fergie’s greatest gamble yet….and it paid off massively. In 5 trophy laden years at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo won all there was to win in club, continental and intercontinental football collecting 3 premier league medals, 1 FA Cup title, 2 Carling Cup titles, 1 Champions League title and 1 FIFA Club World Cup title not forgetting a truckload of personal accolades. After the 2008/2009 season, he expressed his desire to seek a new challenge by joining his dream club, REAL MADRID. Circa 2009, Ronaldo became the subject of an 80 million pound move from Manchester United to Real Madrid and in the process became the 7th player to have played for both Real Madrid and Manchester United after Laurie Cunningham, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Gabriel Heinze, and also making him the most expensive footballer in the history of the beautiful game.
Ronaldo has more than justified his price tag since his arrival at the Bernabeu and is currently the joint 6th top scorer of all-time (alongside Gento) at Real Madrid with 182 goals. Whilst at Real Madrid, he has won three titles; La Liga title, Copa Del Rey and Spanish Super Cup, further enhancing his medal count. Ronaldo playing against his former club will be highly emotional especially in the second leg of this tie when he returns home to Old Trafford. Songs of adulation will herald his return and the vociferous Manchester United fans have promised to “show him love” because he left Old Trafford without any major controversy. How Ronaldo performs against his former club will be a subject of interest. He has earlier indicated that he won’t celebrate IF he scores against his former club, a gesture which has come to stay in football.
Rivalry will be rejuvenated, supremacy will either be confirmed or denied, and a tricky case of repeat or revenge is highly anticipated (Manchester United was bundled out of Europe by Real Madrid in the 2002/2003 Champions League season). Mercurial Madrid boss, Mourinho aptly described the match as “a game the whole world is waiting for”. Who will win the tie? REAL MADRID or MANCHESTER UNITED??